|Ask Rabbi Simmons|
Does Judaism support reincarnation?
Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts.
There are many Jewish sources dealing
with what is popularly
called "reincarnation." In Hebrew, it is called "gilgul
ha'ne'shamot," literally the recycling or transmigration of
This concept can be compared to a flame of one candle lighting
another candle. While the essence of the second flame comes from
the first one, the second flame is an independent entity.
Still, the new flame
contains imperfections inherited from the
initial flame, and it is these imperfections that are to be
Most of the written material
is very esoteric, often written in
Aramaic. Some of the prominent works dealing with this subject
are the "Zohar" (1st century) and the Arizal's "Shaar HaGilgulim"
(16th century). In the Bible itself, the idea is intimated in
Deut. 25:5-10, Deut. 33:6 and Isaiah 22:14, 65:6.
sources say that a soul has a maximum of three chances in
this world. One example given is that the great Talmudic sage
Hillel was a reincarnation of the Biblical figure Aaron.
The soul only comes into this world in the
first place in order
to make a spiritual repair. If that is not fulfilled by the end
of one's lifetime, then the soul will be sent down once again.
The return trip may only be needed for a short time or in a
limited way. This in part explains why people are born with
handicaps or may live a brief life.
It is not necessary that there be a conscious awareness in
for the correction to take place. Conscious awareness is only one
level of understanding.
As for your desire to be Jewish:
can become a Jew by converting. Once he converts, he
then becomes a Jew in every regard and his relationship with God
is the same level as that of every other Jew.
Unlike many other religions, Judaism does not demand that all
people convert to the religion. Maimonides explains that any
human being who faithfully observes the "7 Laws of Noah" earns a
proper place in heaven. The Torah of Moses is a truth for all
humanity, whether Jewish or not.
As well, the Holy Temple did not just benefit Jews. When King
Solomon built the Temple, he specifically asked God to heed the
prayer of the non-Jew who comes to the Temple. (Kings I 8:41-43)
The prophet Isaiah refers to the Temple as a "House for all
nations." The Temple was the universal center of spirituality, a
concentrated point where God-consciousness filtered down into the
world. In ancient times, the service in the Holy Temple during
the week of Sukkos featured a total of 70 bull offerings. This,
the Talmud explains, corresponds to each of the 70 nations of the
world. In fact, the Talmud says that if the Romans (who destroyed
the Temple) would have realized how much benefit they themselves
were benefiting from the Temple, they never would have destroyed
You can check out the Bnai Noach
Web Site at:
There is an excellent
book on the topic of the 7 Laws of Noah:
"The Path of the Righteous Gentile" by Chaim Clorfene and Yakov
Rogalsky. (try locating it at http://www.franksbooks.com)
* * *
But what about the non-Jew who does wish to convert to Judaism?
According to the Code of Jewish Law (the "Shulchan Aruch"), there
are three requirements for a valid conversion:
1) Mitzvot - He must believe
in God and the divinity of the
Torah, as well as accept upon himself to observe all 613 mitzvot
(commandments) of the Torah. This includes observance of Shabbat,
Kashrut, etc. -- as detailed in the Code of Jewish Law, the
authoritative source for Jewish observance.
2) Milah - Male converts must
undergo circumcision by a qualified
"Mohel." If he was previously circumcised by a doctor, he then
undergoes a ritual called "hatafas dam".
3) Mikveh - All converts must immerse in the Mikveh - a ritual
bath linked to a reservoir of rain water.
All of the above must be
done before a court of three Jewish men
who themselves believe in God, accept the divinity of the Torah,
and observe the mitzvot. In the case of someone who denies
fundamental principles of Jewish belief (such as, the word for
word divinity of the Torah), or offers to perform the conversion
without requiring full mitzvah observance, the conversion would
be invalid according to the Code of Jewish Law.
This means that a motor vehicle is not used on
cheese is eaten only with kosher supervision, that a woman uses
the mikveh every month, that hands are ritually washed before
every bread meal, that the status of a Kohen is preserved, and
much much more.
are two excellent books which are helpful for conversion:
- "To Be A Jew" by Chaim Halevi Donin
- "Becoming a Jew" by Maurice Lamm
recommended are two real-life accounts of non-Jews who
converted to Judaism:
- "Migrant Soul" by Avi Shafran
- "The Bamboo Cradle" by Avraham Schwartzbaum
Rabbi Shraga Simmons